Gluten, gluten-free diet, gluten-free products, gluten intolerance…these words have been taking the country by a storm in the past few years. In fact, a couple of years ago, a few people were only familiar with the word gluten. Nowadays, health fad-especially diet fads, social media influencers, celebrities, and even doctors and nutritionists suggest that we go gluten-free. But, what’s all this hype about? What exactly is this gluten and why should we avoid it? How bad can it be?
These thoughts had perplexed us too. Not so long ago, even we didn’t quite understand what exactly gluten is and what it can do it our food. Neither were we familiar with this ‘food movement’ that gluten has managed to create. So, we thought that there might be others just like us and that prompted us to discuss with you what exactly gluten is and why or what harm it can do to us.
Let’s get to the basics…What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein. So, how can protein cause such harm? Well, gluten isn’t the kind of protein you find in meat or eggs. Gluten is a protein found in many grains like wheat and barley. It’s the protein that gives the binding factor or…it’s what makes the dough to pizzas and pasta ‘stick’ together.
So how does this relatively innocent protein cause such mayhem?
This protein causes the immune system in people with Celiac disease and gluten intolerance to react badly to it. The immune system of gluten intolerant people thinks of this as a foreign substance or an allergen and attacks it. This causes reactions like hives, rashes, runny nose and sometimes anaphylaxis. And if people with Celiac disease consume gluten, their immune system starts attacking its own tissues, especially that of the digestive tract. This causes the lining of the small intestine to be damaged. Therefore, the nutrient absorption in people with Celiac disease is very poor and they often suffer from severe weight loss and deficiencies and other health conditions like anaemia.
Another group of people to whom gluten can be harmful are people with a wheat allergy. People allergic to wheat are allergic to many factors in wheat and gluten is one of them. They can develop somewhat the same allergic reactions and symptoms as gluten intolerance and Celiac disease but isn’t life-threatening and the effects are generally short-term.
So, who should avoid gluten?
As mentioned above, people with gluten intolerance, Celiac disease, wheat allergy and several other health problems like irritable bowel syndrome. If people with these health conditions consume gluten, it can cause symptoms and reactions ranging from short-term to sometimes long-term and maybe even life-threatening. The symptoms include headaches, bloating, cramps, hives and rashes, extreme fatigue, brain fogging. Surprisingly, symptoms in all of these diseases and conditions are somewhat similar and this makes the diagnosis difficult.
How to avoid gluten?
The only way to avoid gluten is to abstain from gluten-containing food items. There are very many alternatives available today that are gluten-free. There’s a misconception that gluten-free food items are difficult to source and even if they are, it’s very expensive. But that’s not true. There are many naturally gluten-free options like vegetables, fruits, meats, poultry, fish and so on and also gluten-free grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, rice and millets. Some people also think that gluten-free food items are gritty and tasteless. Again, that’s another misconception. Gluten-free options can be delicious and sometimes better than gluten-containing traditional food items.
Another way to avoid gluten is to read the labels of packaged foods well to ensure that they are truly gluten-free. Also, watch out for cross-contamination, especially while eating out.
As a recapitalisation, we discussed in length what gluten is and where it is found. We also discussed how gluten causes health problems in people. Also, about how and who should avoid it.
Therefore, gluten, however rich in other aspects it can be, is life-threatening and harmful for people with serious health issues like Celiac disease. For others, whether or not to keep away from gluten is a totally personal decision. But an added advantage of going gluten-free is that it can aid in weight loss to an extent. Again, that’s for each to decide. We would suggest that you do what you feel is right for you and your body. Stay healthy!